Biden administration dangles $250 million to cities in push to promote COVID-19 vaccinations, safety

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden’s administration is making $250 million in federal grants available to local governments that work to encourage COVID-19 safety and vaccinations in underserved communities.

Vice President Kamala Harris announced the program Monday during a virtual address to the National League of Cities, saying the grants would be available to localities that partner with community organizations on the health literacy initiative.

“Our goal is to provide underserved communities with the information they need to stay safe and to get vaccinated,” Harris said. “And remember, information and education, of course, save lives.”

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is overseeing the grants, which are available to city and county governments, parishes or other similar subdivisions. The deadline to apply is April 20.

Harris said the federal government expects to fund 30 projects in urban communities and 43 projects in rural communities over two years.

US Vice President Kamala Harris delivers remarks to the National League of Cities in the South Court Auditorium of the White House in Washington, DC, on March 8, 2021.

Recipients of the grants will be expected to develop a “disparity impact statement,” according to HHS, that identifies racial and ethnic minority populations at highest risk of health disparities, low health literacy and not being engaged through existing public health messages about COVID-19.

Though the partnerships with community-based organizations, the grantees will be tasked with creating health literacy plans to promote COVID=19 public health information and services among these groups.

“I ask the friends here, please do work with us to put equity at the center of our collective response,” Harris said, “to identify those individuals in communities who have been overlooked and to connect them with the resources are available.”

Black Americans are hospitalized with COVID-19 at 2.9 times the rate of white Americans and die at 1.9 times the rate, according to CDC data. Latinos are hospitalized at more than three times the rate and die more than twice the rate of white Americans.

At the same time, Black Americans have expressed more hesitancy than other ethnic groups on taking the COVID-19 vaccine. However, a Pew Research poll last week found attitudes are changing. A majority of Black Americans, 61%, said they planned to get the COVID-19 vaccine, up from 42% in November, but still below white adults (69%), (91% Hispanic adults (70%) and English-speaking Asian American adults (91%).

Americans who live in rural areas – who are overwhelmingly Republicans – are also more hesitant about getting vaccinated. The same poll found that 60% of rural Americans said they have been or plan to get vaccinated for the coronavirus, compared to 73% of Americans in suburbs and 71% in cities. Fifty-six percent of Republicans said they planned to get the vaccine, compared to 83% of Democrats – a gap by party that’s wider than at any point in 2020.

Staff writer Adrianna Rodriguez contributed to this report. Reach Joey Garrison on Twitter @joeygarrison.

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